Earlier this week, when photos of Lakers star LeBron James at a party with celebrities like Drake to promote his Lobos tequila went viral, there was a widespread assumption that the Lakers star must have been vaccinated against COVID-19, an assumption fueled by Instagram comments from those in attendance at the event suggesting that everyone at the party was vaccinated and tested.
After all, the James would have been in trouble for breaking the NBA’s health and safety protocols ahead of their play-in game if he wasn’t vaccinated before such an event, right?
Well... Things may not exactly be that clear-cut. After James declined to admit publicly whether or not he had been vaccinated at practice on Friday, Dave McMenamin of ESPN broke the news overnight that James was in violation of the NBA’s protocols by attending that gathering, and that he and the Lakers had been warned:
“It’s a violation of the agreed upon protocols, and, as we have in other comparable instances around the league, it has been addressed with the team,” a league spokesman told ESPN on Friday.
According to the league protocols, players who fail to comply with these rules are subject to warnings, fines or suspensions. Players who repeatedly break the rules could be subject to more severe discipline.
Bill Oram of the Athletic followed up Saturday morning with a report that James will not miss time as a result of this violation, and explained why, something Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN later confirmed as well:
In regards to @mcten’s overnight report: I’m told LeBron’s health and safety violation will not affect his availability this weekend. The nature of the event — outdoors, testing/vax requirement + no known exposure — make it a lesser violation. https://t.co/I34JHCl26r— Bill Oram (@billoram) May 22, 2021
LeBron James won't be suspended for protocols violation, sources tell ESPN. Nature of event didn't rise to a threat level of virus spread, as described in @McTen's story below. Suns-Lakers Game 1 on Sunday. https://t.co/nEAcnBsbvv— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) May 22, 2021
This is unsurprising, as if the league knew about the party and warned James, if they were going to suspend him or put him into isolation, he would not have been at practice on Friday (or able to participate in Wednesday’s play-in game, for that matter).
As to the question of whether or not James has been vaccinated, that part is still not totally clear. In April, Dennis Schröder told a German news outlet that he and James were the only Lakers not vaccinated, but walked those comments back last week when returning from his second stint of the season spent in isolation due to the health and safety protocols, saying he was the only player to not receive the vaccine.
At practice on Friday, James was more evasive. For full context, here is a direct transcript of his exchange with Kyle Goon of the O.C. Register:
Hey LeBron, I know you talked about how your availability for this postseason is a huge factor for the team’s success. I was wondering if that value affected the way you thought about the COVID-19 vaccine and being available, not being in the protocols.
LeBron: Nah. Nah. Anything I do off the floor is predicated to my family for the majority, 99.9% of that. So it’s about the health and safety of my family, and that’s what it came down to. Me being available to my teammates on the floor is me taking care of my body, me doing everything I can to make sure I’m available mentally, physically and spiritually as well. So anything of that nature, that’s all family talk.
And do you mind me asking if you’re confirming that you did get the vaccine?
LeBron: It’s not a big deal.
And if James indeed has not gotten the vaccine, he may not be alone. Head coach Frank Vogel confirmed that the team has not hit the threshold of 85% of players and staff fully vaccinated that is necessary to loosen the protocols for the team.
Baxter Holmes of ESPN outlined what those changes would mean when he broke the news of the NBA changing them:
Specifically, the changes to the protocols apply to any person who is “two weeks past their final dose and any team where 85% of players and 85% of staff are fully vaccinated,” the memo states.
Fully vaccinated individuals will no longer have to quarantine following exposure to COVID-19; can have friends, family and others visit at home and on the road without having them test or register with the team; and can dine outdoors at restaurants, among other eased restrictions.
Fully vaccinated teams will no longer have to wear masks at the practice facility; have more flexibility to leave the team hotel on the road; and can dine indoors or outdoors at restaurants, among other eased restrictions.
The Lakers would need at least 15 of their 17 players vaccinated to hit that 85% threshold for players (they would also need 85% of their staff vaccinated as well). So far, Schröder is the only player who has directly admitted he does not have the vaccine.
On Friday, Vogel said that the team is “hopeful” they will eventually meet those requirements.
“I think there are obvious benefits from the standpoint of us being able to do more things with each other in the cities that we’re going to, something that’s been absent league-wide in terms of team building and team bonding,” Vogel said. “It’s been a challenge. So if we ever reach that threshold, then obviously we can do more.”
For now, the Lakers aren’t there yet, and it remains an open question if they will be this season. The team is just lucky at this point that the NBA deemed that James’ violation was not serious enough to warrant a stint in isolation ahead of their playoff series. Moving forward, he and everyone else on the team will have to be more careful to avoid making themselves repeat offenders.
But for everyone worked up about this and demanding LeBron gets suspended or put in isolation, it’s hard for me to get there:
The Suns will have 11,000 people in their arena for these playoff games. It's hard for me to get too worked about about the dangers of an outdoor and tested event. https://t.co/wrYGjurGsl— We Believe Faigen (@hmfaigen) May 22, 2021
As I said on Twitter: Should LeBron have done this? No. It was an unnecessary risk that could have led to him not being available for the Lakers, and in a worst-case scenario could have put his health and the health of others in jeopardy.
But the NBA has let us know all season where its priorities lie when it comes to health and safety. As arenas fill around the league, it’s hard for me to get too worked up about an outdoor and tested event that was essentially just a photoshoot.
Pretty crucial details here from the LeBron article pic.twitter.com/kCdZ4kG1q2— Jackson Frank (@jackfrank_jjf) May 22, 2021
I may have felt differently about this in January, but at this point, it is what it is.
The Lakers and Suns begin their first-round series on Sunday in Phoenix at 12:30 p.m. PT.